Monday, July 21, 2008

Summer Sports

Hooray! Summer sports season is officially over today. NFL training camps opened! Football is here! FINALLY!

I know it's been just over a month since the Boston Celtics captured the NBA title, but to me it feels like I've watched dozens of movies and read plenty of books to help fill the black hole. We had the NBA draft, which is becoming less of an event as I realize it means nothing until three years down the road. We had lots of baseball, golf and an exciting Wimbledon Final.

But what I discovered this year is that my two favorite "sports" of the summer are:

1) Poker: Texas Hold 'Em

2) Hacky sack (also known as "footbag," and called "Sipa" -- which is a brand name -- by someone here in Utah).

I know, I know... Some of you will disagree that poker and hacky sack are not actually sports, which provides me the content of today's blog. What is and what is NOT a sport? What criteria are most important to make the cut? And finally, is golf a sport?

Well, lets put it to the test...

I have three rules about a whether or not something is a sport...

a) Rules/Pressure: There have to be rules, competition, winners, losers, time limits, etc. A game has to be played, and a result has to be concluded.

b) Athlete/Skill: Does it make you sweat? Or does it require absolute peak physical condition to play at the top level? Are you considered an athlete to play the sport?

c) Equipment. Does it involve some type of ball, or even a special pair of shoes. Sports are not something you do while wearing a suit.

I also have a few sub rules, that are not a requirement, but things I consider important help make it pass the test. We'll call them Joe requirements.

i) Can you drink alcohol and play at the same time?

ii) Is it considered "manly"?

iii) Team sports are given a higher value than individual sports. Although athletes are not necessarily better or worse for participating in a team sport, team sports draw a level of respect because of the camaraderie and teamwork involved.

Sports are part of what makes a man, well "a man" (grunt). One of the main differences between boys and girls is that a boy can take a ball and be entertained for hours on end, while girls tend to get bored quickly with the ball/toy/contraption, the rules and the competition. Then they'll leave to form a group and want to talk amongst themselves for hours upon end. So if you're a dude and you fall on the latter end, you're either metrosexual or a geek.

So, let's take an example:

Football: You take a funny shaped ball, hit each other a lot, and throw in a million rules and BOOM, you have the most popular sport in America. I think we can all agree football fits the criteria for a sport.

SOLID SPORTS: football, basketball, soccer, hockey, volleyball, lacrosse, gymnastics, swimming, track and field, wrestling, boxing, tennis, baseball etc.

Now, let's look at an example of a borderline sport:

Ultimate Frisbee: You take a Frisbee, pass it around, with the goal of getting to a certain point to score points. You run, you sweat, but it's really quite silly, and the die-hards who actually play it regularly take it way too seriously. It's a sport, but really no one in their right mind wants to admit it.

BORDERLINE SPORTS: Ultimate Frisbee, softball, Quidditch, cycling, etc.

The Baseball/Softball debate: Baseball makes the cut, and softball doesn't. Softball a bastardized version of baseball. But here is the thing about baseball. Baseball is a team sport that really ends up being a battle between the pitcher and the hitter while 8 people stand around on defense and 8 teammates watch from the dugout. But it requires strength to hit the ball deep, it can tire you out by running the bases, and collisions in the outfield and the home plate are just awesome. But these athletes get paid millions of dollars to make a plate appearance four times a game, then go in the outfield to maybe catch 3-4 balls per game. It's a sport highly dependant on skills, which is why a guy like Nolan Ryan and Julio Franco can play well into their mid 40s and guys like Jim Abbott (one arm) Cecil and Prince Fielder (fat asses) can make the pros.

Quidditch: The wizard/witch imaginary sport created in the Harry Potter books seems like a legit sport. It's like flying soccer with some American aspects (hoops, etc). But the scoring makes no sense. Each team has players that score goals worth 10 points on each other. But each team has an independent dude (the seeker) that flies around trying to catch something (the snitch) that will score 150 points and end the game, which almost always happens. It's like two sports in one??? In book four of the series ("The Goblet of Fire"), Viktor Krum is an excellent seeker stuck on a crappy team of goal scorers. His team gets down 150 points on goals, yet he still catches the snitch to end the game. Everybody is satisfied because the other team won, but Krum was amazing. The book states that he was trying to save his team further embarrassment by ending the game, but really who in their right mind would end the game if it meant losing?

Quidditch is fundamentally flawed and no dude would ever accept those rules to a game of such "great importance" in the wizard world.

Not a sport. Here is an example of something that isn't a sport:

Poker: Poker is not a sport. Although it can be considered a sport with its recent popularity and airings on ESPN, it requires no physical activity. It takes skill to read your opponent and wits to make and call bluffs, but guys sit around for hours and hours and bet money. Any fat blob, or blind person can sit down and play and it is not a sport. It's a game.

NON-SPORTS: Poker, hacky sack, golf, darts, video games, jogging, weightlifting, NASCAR, and I'm sure there are plenty of others...

Golf: Ok, here is where the arguments start and people will call me a moron. Does golf have rules and competition? Yes. Does it require athletic ability to crush the ball long ? Yes. Is there special equipment? Yes.

So what's my problem with golf? Is it hard? Yes. Does it make professional athletes like Michael Jordan look ridiculous playing it? Yes. When you boil it down, it's a skill. It's a skill that millions covet.

Here are my problems with golf. Greg Norman is 53 years old and just nearly won a tournament. Pro golfers have caddies! People go drink and play golf -- hand-in-hand. Michelle Wie is a 14-year old girl, yet they let her play against the professionals in the men's league. Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open with a torn ACL!

Young boys don't start playing golf. Men who are past their prime physical physique start playing golf. It's an excuse to still do something once you've developed your beer gut. It's something utilized to avoid the wife once you retire (like work used to do when you worked). It's a hobby for rich people. It's a skill you acquire. It's revered by millions, but it's not an athletic event. Thanks to Tiger, it has inspired younger golfers. But really, it was bound to happen. You plug an athlete like him into an old man's game and of course he would inspire millions of youngsters to play. That would be like me taking over shuffleboard tournaments on a cruise ship.

So there you have it. Let the arguments begin.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Catching Up With Average Joe Through Video

Utah Jazz: The Offseason

A few weeks ago, Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson wrote an article that if the Jazz really do want to contend for the title, they must make a move now. With the recent playoff success of the Jazz making the Western Conference Finals in 2007 and the Western Conference Semifinals in 2008, many would believe that the young Jazz team can stay in contention for an NBA championship for many years to come. Monson, however, still believes that the team is one major piece away from the title, and I must concur.

Unless the Jazz want to torture their fan base for the next decade like they did with the Stockton and Malone era and build teams that can almost get you there, but never actually climb over the mountain, then yes, they should keep Deron and Boozer together for as long as possible. Sure, there will be an ever-revolving door at shooting guard, and we have likeable players like Mehmet Okur, Matt Harpring, Paul Milsap and Kyle Korver, but this Jazz team is not built to conquer the Western Conference. We still need a defensive-minded wing player and a defensive minded shot blocker to keep the opposing team out of the middle. If we want that to happen, we must spend the full-mid-level exception on a player like a James Posey, Corey Maggette or Desagana Diop.

Right now, the free agency period has just started and the Jazz have a few major questions regarding their roster and what they can do. Here are a few options:

a) The Jazz keep the current team in place. As of right now, we have all 15 roster spots filled up after drafting Kosta Koufus in the first round of the NBA draft and assuming CJ Miles accepts his offer the Jazz received. The team, as constructed, remains as intact as it did from last year, for better or for worse: PG - Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Jason Hart, SG - Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Morris Almond, SF - Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring, CJ Miles, PF - Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap, Useless Collins, C - Mehmet Okur, Kyrlo Fesenko, Kosta Koufos. That's 15.

This is a 50-win team that gets you into the 2nd round of the playoffs and maybe even the Western Conference Finals because the San Antonio Spurs have a lot of holes and age issues, and the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks have a new coach.

Problem: The main problem with this roster is that we could lose to the Lakers once again, but maybe it happens in the Western Conference Finals. The other major problem is that once that happens, major changes will have to take place like the retirement of Jerry Sloan or the Jazz going over the cap in the summer of 2009 once Deron Williams' extension kicks in. If that were the case if Boozer were to opt out, we may lose him anyway because we can't afford to keep him without trading Okur or AK47.

Resolve: It's not a bad idea to stick with it one more year because we'll have Kyle Korver from the start, and Koufus may be a long term solution as a replacement for Mehmet Okur. The major factor is Carlos Boozer. He has no reason to stay with the team. He's been with the Jazz for four seasons now. The first two were highly-criticized because of his injury woes, and the last two were 20-10 seasons, but again much criticism after his disappearance in the playoffs. He owes Jazz fans no loyalty. We've been quick to criticize, so he may bolt next summer and go to a place where he can be more appreciated, paid more and in a bigger market.

b) Trade Boozer now. We could trade Boozer now because of his opt-out clause after next season. He could easily pull a Baron Davis on us, and given the circumstance in the previous paragraph, it could be possible. It's hard to leave a PG as good as Deron Williams, but anything's possible.

I suggest a sign-and-trade with the L.A. Clippers for Elton Brand. Maybe we could get Brand a little cheaper because he's coming off an injury where he missed all of last season. Brand doesn't score as well as Boozer, but he liked the paint more, is better on the offensive glass and would like the winning environment the Jazz offer as opposed to the Clippers. Sure, Baron Davis in L.A. is nice, but still not nearly as deep as the Jazz.

The only major concern here is that, once again, if Brand were locked into a long-term deal, we would have to trade Mehmet Okur or AK47 next summer. Both of these players are somewhat hard to trade, but Okur is easier as his contract is shorter, plus if Koufos is our next Okur, then we'll have a year to see.

c) Actually, with our roster currently locked at 14-15 spots, that's all we can do. The major issue right now is Deron Williams and signing his extension before October. I think he's 95% sure he signs; but for how long? Three years, four years or five years? The power is all in his hands. Lebron, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade set a new precendent a few summers ago when they signed for the three-year minimum instead of the maximun five-year deal.

Plus, I think I'm the only person in the state that thinks of the 5% chance that Deron doesn't sign here in Utah at all. He can just not sign this summer, hold the entire state hostage for a year (man that would be awkward!), then become a free agent next summer and sign in any major market available (New York, etc.).

Look, Deron has a major ego. He doesn't owe the Jazz anything. Why stay here and do tiny mom-and-pop commercials his whole career and get lost in the smallest NBA market with a cheap owner? He's still admits to being pissed that Sloan was dumb enough to not start him in his rookie year. Because of that, he's had to play second fiddle to Chris Paul for the past few years. Chris Paul is happy to stay in New Orleans because he already generates the national buzz. That national love is not getting proportionately given to Deron, but IF he went to a bad situation in a huge market (like the Knicks) and turn that thing around on his own (which he could easily do) he would get all the credit in the world. Sure it would take an extra year or two off his career, but it's better than repeating the careers of Stockton and Malone where the Jazz were always one piece away.

You see, Larry Miller and the Jazz have always been and always will be too cheap to pay that extra contract/luxury tax to give us a title! It's not like it's going to change now. Yes, Larry will give Deron the max contract, but with him taking the max contract, will he be willing to pay other quality players to surround Deron with the right pieces to win the title? No! It's not going to change anything.

If the Heat and Celtics taught us one thing these past three years, it's that it's totally worth mortgaging the future for one title. It just is! I'd rather have an NBA title as a Heat fan, knowing that they were going to have the worst record in the NBA two years later. I'd take that any day than being a 50-win team for the next 15 seasons with no title. I've already been there done that, and I don't feel like getting tortured for the next ten years due to shrewdness. I'd rather be a Laker, Heat or Celtics fan (wow, it hurts type that).

The perfect example of this is Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks. When Shaquille O'Neal was traded from Los Angeles to the Miami Heat, Cuban could have traded Dirk and L.A. would have accepted his offer. But Cuban knew that Dirk was younger and a future regular-season MVP who would deliver 50-win seasons. Then he gave Steve Nash's money to Erick Dampier (a 7-footer) instead. Don't you think that a Dallas nucleus of Steve Nash, Michael Finley and Shaq would have won a title just as easily as the Heat did? Yes! All those players were aging, so Cuban went long-term instead of short-term. His mistake was so huge that Shaq beat HIS team for the title, and it nagged at him so bad that he pulled the gun on the horrible Jason Kidd trade this year. Too little, too late...

Arghhhhhhh, it sucks being a Jazz fan, but I am what I am.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My First Home Run

I'd just like to announce to everybody that I hit my first ever home run yesterday at softball practice! I know, I know, it was just practice, and it was a practice on a shorter field. But listen to me, if you have ever seen me play softball, I'm lucky to hit it out of the infield. So when I was doing batting practice, and the guy behind home plate was giving me a few pointers, then I crushed that ball over that shorter fence, it felt great!

I doubt this will translate to my terrible softball team on Thursday night, but for one swing, the ball went over, and I can live with that forever.

It reminded me of the first time I ever dunked a basketball. Sure, it was in Brazil and I would guess the rim was about an inch or two shorter than a regulation hoop, but for a few weeks in the summer of 2002, I was dunking it with regularity in the southern hemisphere, and I too, can live with that forever.

If only I could have scored a touchdown in a real football game with pads, but that will never happen... I knew that when I took off my helmet after my final game my senior year that it was over. But I'll take 2 out of 3 any time.

I guess I could forever wait for a hole-in-one in golf, but since golf is not a real sport, I don't have to worry about that.